A SECRET society for cake-lovers has proved a hit in Worthing, thanks to members’ passion for baking and meeting new people, writes Sian Gordon.
Members of the Clandestine Cake Club, which was formed last year by Lauren Roffey, meet regularly to swap home-baked treats.
The 28-year-old, of Cross Lane, Findon, arranges meetings in different venues and reveals the details for each just a few days beforehand, via word of mouth or social networking websites.
Each session has a different theme and members have to bring something they have prepared themselves – though muffins, brownies and cupcakes are not allowed.
The Worthing club is part of the wider Clandestine Cake Club network, which was started in Leeds by Lynn Hill, in 2010, and now has more than 100 branches across the UK.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the group’s Christmas meeting, where a host of treats were on display – including a wonderful chocolate and chilli yule log, a dense chocolate and orange Christmas cake, and a beautiful white chocolate and cranberry cake laced with glittery pink snowflakes.
The six women who attended were strangers when they arrived, and each brought along a cake.
Jan Ashton, from Broadwater, Worthing, said: “Attending a meeting, for me, was a combination of wanting to find like-minded bakers and having fun.
“Groups like the Women’s Institute still have a bit of a stigma, and then I just stumbled across the Clandestine Cake Club website and decided to come along.
“I am a very keen baker, but just for fun, although I spend most of my weekends in the kitchen.
“My husband has had to take up cycling to try to burn off the calories from everything I make!
“I wanted to bench-mark myself by coming here, and I guess there was a little bit of nosiness, to see what other people were doing – and to borrow some of their ideas.”
Sarah Palmer, from Worthing, said: “I like cake, so this club seemed like the perfect group for me.
“Bread is really my thing, but I like to try different things.
“Tonight, I have brought a Christmas cake which has ground hazelnuts, walnuts and dark chocolate in.
“I have not made it before as I do not tend to make the same things twice, but it is my usual style of rustic baking.
“It is just nice to get together with other like-minded people and share our baking stories, ideas and recipes.”
Lauren led the way and made guests feel at ease by serving mulled apple juice and slicing in to her own offering, an apricot, cinnamon and olive oil cake.
She said: “I had heard about the cake club movement when I lived and worked in Norwich, and when I moved back to Worthing about 18 months ago, I loved the idea of being part of an underground baking club, so decided to set one up.
“We had our first meeting back in April, at the Thomas A Becket pub, and six people turned up.
“The most we have had at a meeting is 15, when we had a garden party in the summer. But half a dozen is very manageable, as it is pretty relaxed.
“Tonight shows just how much the word is spreading, because none of these people have been to the club before, so different people are finding out about us.
“I have always liked baking, and my gran always made cakes and other sweet things.
“But it was while I was doing my thesis that I really got into it.
“It appealed to me because it did not involve my mind at all and it really helped me to unwind.
“Then I started taking things that I had made into the office and people liked it, so I decided to start a blog.”
Lauren explained that the beauty of the Clandestine Cake Club is that it is a non-competitive environment where people can simply meet to share cake, be inspired and make friends with fellow enthusiasts.
She said: “While being secret, the club is in no way exclusive and we welcome bakers of all ages and abilities.
“There is no competitive angle or any Great British Bake Off-style judging.
“It is simply a way to meet with like-minded people and share a love of baking.
“I don’t doubt that I could eat a Victoria sponge to myself but the great part of cake baking is the sharing and that is what the Clandestine Cake Club facilitates.
“Members turn up with their cake, and a guest if they want, and share it with everyone, while having a chat about recipes, baking, the relative merits of macaroons, the Great British Bake Off, and life in general.
“At the end, the remaining cake is divided up for everyone to take home to share with friends and family.”
Lauren’s own passion has turned into a desire to start her own coffee and cake shop, and she is currently in the process of securing a premises in central Worthing as a base for her social enterprise idea. She said: “It will run like any other shop, but I will be providing training and employment for 18 to 24-year-olds and I am also going to run voluntary work placements and bring in external people to run workshops.
“From my research career in the social sciences, I have gained a strong understanding of, and opinion on, the social, environmental and economic challenges faced by society and the power business has to address them.
“The social enterprise model, where a business is driven by creating a positive social impact, massively appealed to me as it facilitates this.
“Drawing together my experience, my desire to make a tangible, positive impact by engaging with people, and my love of baking, Baked: cake with a cause CIC – a cake café – was born.
“Baked’s social mission, which drives all of its activities, is threefold – to provide employment and training opportunities to young people, to champion local businesses and to support local community groups and charities.
“Offering customers a fairer, better, more ethical, way to consume without any concession to quality, it sets out to utilise the power of business to create positive social change in Worthing, Adur and West Sussex.”
n For more information on the club, log on to the website www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk/groups/worthing/